New Rules Of The Game

Experience in traditional media planning or buying is a tremendous asset for online media planners. While many of the traditional media planning concepts do not translate well to interactive, some definitely do. Often, traditional media practices can provide context for those in interactive. For instance, many of an interactive agency’s business practices come from the world of traditional media.

When a traditional media planner wants to place advertising in a print publication, for example, he usually issues an Insertion Order – a signed document that is sent to the publication and outlines the cost and business guidelines for inserting a client’s ad into that publication. Similarly, in online media, agencies issue insertion orders to interactive media properties in order to place advertising with them.

Only recently, however, have I noticed that an agency IO is no longer enough for some online media properties. They want agencies to sign their own contracts, with their own terms and conditions. In fact, many online properties will refuse to sign agency IOs and will accept only their own contracts as an official agreement.

This is really just a minor difference in the way that online and traditional media properties do business. However, I’ve been more than a little surprised at some of the other ways that the online folks deviate from the traditional business models. For example:

  • Flight Dates: Online media properties sometimes ignore flight dates. Traditional reps realize this is a big no-no, and some of them have been penalized for running media activity out of flight. Most wouldn’t even consider deviating significantly from the flight. However, some interactive reps feel this is okay in online media. I once had a sales rep run the impressions scheduled to run over 2 months in about three days. For some reason, he thought it was then okay to shut off the campaign because it had delivered to goal. While no one expects that every campaign will be perfectly paced, media people do expect flight dates to be adhered to.

  • Contract Cancellation: Online media planners are sometimes expected to sign advertising contracts that do not allow for cancellation. This is weird. Even if you intend to run a commercial in the Super Bowl, you can pull out of the deal if you give plenty of notice. How are these non-cancelable advertising deals gaining a foothold?
  • Underdelivery: Some online media reps do not understand that underdelivery is a bad thing. In my traditional days, when a buy underdelivered, the client would always demand to know why and would immediately want to know what the underdelivering property wanted to do in order to turn the situation around. Sales reps would politely and apologetically propose a makegood plan that would put my client in a better situation than he would have been if the plan had been followed as it should have. Lately, many of the online reps have taken a sort of lackadaisical attitude toward underdeliveries. I’ve actually had reps tell me that they’ve double-booked inventory and that I shouldn’t worry because they’ll just make it good in a month or two.
  • Reserved Ad Inventory: I’ve actually seen some sales organizations take the stance that reserved ad inventory isn’t actually reserved. They guarantee a number of ad views, but the guarantee disappears if someone else decides to pay more for the inventory. Does this seem screwy to anybody else? How would I react if the guy at the car dealership said to me, “Tom, I’m going to sell you this brand new Corvette for $40,000. However, if another buyer decides to pay $45,000 for it, I’m sending the repo man to your house to take the car back.”

How do we deal with these problems? When the expectations of the sales organization and the ad agency are this far apart, perhaps it’s time for the agencies to set forth guidelines on how business should be done in this space. As sales organizations deviate from traditional media business practices, how can agencies know what to expect? It’s best to lay it all out on the table – put together a list of your expectations and make sure media properties understand that you expect to do business in a certain way. Also make it clear what the penalties are for deviating from your business practices.

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